Hanged black man had told friends his life was perfect

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The Independent Online

Only hours before his death, Jason McGowan – the second black man from the same family in Telford, Shropshire, to be found hanged – told friends his life was perfect.

The 20-year-old had been planning a weekend in Paris with his new wife Sinead, and wanted to buy a car and start a family.

Yet in the early hours of 1 January 2000, he was found suspended from railings near a pub where he had been celebrating the Millennium Eve. His death, coming just six months after that of his uncle Errol McGowan, 34, shocked his family and the small community.

Yesterday, on the fifth day of an inquest into his death, his close friend, Mark Fielding, explained how they had been discussing New Year resolutions that night. Mr Fielding said: "There was nothing he wanted to change – he was quite happy the way he was." Jason and Sinead, he added, had been dancing in their kitchen before they left for the party at the Elephant and Castle pub.

"He was in very good form and was raring to go out," he told the inquest.

Another friend, Peter Smitherman, described Mr McGowan as a level-headed, sensible man and "the life and soul of any party".

His widow, Sinead McGowan, 25, added that they had been making numerous plans, including starting a family. "I wanted one child, and Jason wanted a football team," she said.

The jury of seven men and four women watched a tape of Mr McGowan's last hours alive as he celebrated New Year's Eve. The 90-minute edited videotape of CCTV footage taken from the Elephant and Castle's four cameras caught the young couple arriving shortly after 8.30pm that night.

The poor quality, black-and-white silent image then showed Mrs McGowan leaving at 1.30am, nearly two hours after her husband.

Some who had been in the pub that night said the evening had not gone well for Mr McGowan.

Detective Constable John Fastiszewski, from the West Mercia Crime Squad, who was among the original officers to investigate the death, told the hearing that over a period of six months 235 people who had been at the pub that night were interviewed.

Barry Horton remembered an argument between the McGowans. "It was not a friendly conversation, she was pointing at him," he said.

Suzanna Cable recalled seeing Mr McGowan near the men's toilets. "He just looked like he was distant, he didn't seem like he was thinking about New Year. He had either splashed his face with water or it was tears," she said. Matthew Rowe described how he had been rudely brushed off by Mr McGowan when he approached him that evening.

"I was knocked back by it so I followed him to find out what was wrong. I didn't take it personally. I said 'What's up?' and he said that he had some problems."

Michelle Drury, a friend who was spending New Year's Eve with the couple, said Mrs McGowan had seemed a "bit down" and tried to call her husband after midnight when he disappeared.

A friend, Julie Smith, added: "I remember hearing Sinead saying something into the mobile phone. She said, 'Where are you, everybody is worried'. She seemed more annoyed than concerned."

Early the next morning, Mr McGowan's body was discovered only a few minutes' walk from the pub. He had been dead for several hours.